Article 113 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 1461-1470 Over the past several weeks, as I assisted with the First Confessions of our young 7 year-olds, I recalled my own First Confession so many years ago.
There were about 80 of us preparing for First Penance that year, and at least 10 confessionals available so that our parents, siblings and teachers could also participate. I remember that the preparation was lengthy and included an explanation by our catechists that the priest would act “ in persona Christi” or “in the person of Christ” when he administered this great sacrament of God’s mercy. We were directed to do a good examination of conscience so we could tell the priest the sins we committed and the number of times we committed those sins. Each of us had to memorize the Act of Contrition and know our general prayers in case the priest included any of these prayers when he gave us our penance. We were also assured that everything we confessed was private and the priest would never tell our parents, our teachers or any other living soul whatsoever.
When the day of our First Confes- sions fi nally arrived, I recall my hands
were sweaty and I felt weak. The door
of the confessional fi nally opened, so I
made my way in, kneeling in the dark with a metal grill blocking my view of the priest. I began: “Bless me Father for I have sinned, this is my fi rst confession…”
I began telling the priest my many sins, one of which was the sin of adultery — at least six times! When I completed my list of offenses the priest asked, “What do you mean, you committed the sin of adultery at least six times?” I answered: “Yes, Father, these were the times I wished I was an adult!”
No doubt the priest would have heard many cute, perhaps even humorous confessions over the years, but I doubt he ever heard a First Confession like mine.
For the record, that was the fi rst and only
time I ever confessed to committing the sin of adultery!
The good news is that Our Blessed Lord gave us the Sacrament of Penance so that all our sins, not just the sin of adultery, could be forgiven in this great sacrament of God’s love.
The Catechism reminds us that “Christ entrusted to his apostles the ministry of reconciliation” and priests “continue to exercise this ministry” (ccc 1461). The Catechism continues: “Indeed bishops and priests, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, have the power to forgive all sins ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’” (ccc 1461). Given the delicacy and greatness of this sacrament and the respect due to all persons, the priest may never divulge, under any circumstances, anything that he learns while hearing confessions. This secret, of which there are no exceptions, is called the “sacramental seal,” because what the penitent has made known to the priest remains “sealed” by the sacrament (ccc 1467).
As previously discussed, in confession the “forgiveness of sins brings reconciliation with God, [and] with the Church” (ccc 1462). In the past, certain sins, such as desecration of the Eucharist or a priest who had taken the vow of celibacy attempting marriage (outside the Church) or abortion, were reserved for the bishop or even the pope to absolve.
In our present circumstances, almost all sins — including abortion — can be absolved
by a priest. However, the Catechism reminds us that certain grave or mortal sins “incur excommunication, the most severe ecclesiastical penalty, which impedes the reception of the sacraments” (ccc 1463).
The purpose of excommunication is to serve as a warning to sinners that they are placing their salvation in jeopardy.
The Code of Canon Law states: “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication” (canon 1398), which means an automatic excommunication. For example, Catholic politicians who support laws to create or expand the evil of abortion and remain unrepentant effectively excommunicate themselves and are not permitted to receive Holy Communion or theother sacraments without fi rst repenting.
The Catechism continues: “absolution consequently cannot be granted, according to canon law, except by the Pope, the bishop of the place or priests authorized by them” (ccc 1463). Referring to the Code of Canon Law (canon 976), some may be surprised to learn that an accommodation does exist if a penitent is in danger of death. Under such circumstances, the Catechism tells us, “any priest, even if deprived of faculties for hearing confessions, can absolve from every sin and excommunication” (ccc 1463). Again, a penitent, even in danger of death, must approach the sacrament seeking reconciliationwith God and his Church.
The Catechism continues, “Priests must encourage the faithful to come to the sacrament of Penance” (ccc 1464).
Why? Because “when he celebrates the sacrament of Penance, the priest is ful- fi lling the ministry of the Good Shepherd
who seeks the lost sheep, of the Good Samaritan who binds up wounds, of the Father who awaits the prodigal son,” etc.
This section of the Catechism concludes by assuring us that the “power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God’s grace and joining us with him in an intimate friendship” (ccc 1468). Reconciliation with God is thus the purpose and effect of this sacrament.
Then-Pope, now St. John Paul II, in his 1984 Apostolic Exhortation “Reconciliation and Penance,” said it this way: “The most precious result of the forgiveness obtained in the sacrament of penance consists in reconciliation with God…
The forgiven penitents are reconciled with themselves in their inmost being, where they regain their innermost truth.
They are reconciled with their brethren whom they have in some way offended and wounded. They are reconciled with the Church. They are reconciled with all creation” (RP 31:5).